Bradford City v Sunderland: Cup run has given peace of mind to Williams

Ben Williams is congratulated by team-mate Stephen Darby after crucial saves against FC Halifax in the FA Cup (Picture: Tony Johnson).
Ben Williams is congratulated by team-mate Stephen Darby after crucial saves against FC Halifax in the FA Cup (Picture: Tony Johnson).
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IN a week when Ferrari dealers and the makers of Cristal Champagne have been toasting the continued largesse of Sky and BT Sport, the past year for Ben Williams has been a world away from the Premier League and television deals that run into billions.

Not only has the 32-year-old goalkeeper seen two prospective transfers collapse through no fault of his own since leaving Hibernian last summer.

But also, until recently, Williams had to worry about supporting a young family when any notion of job security lasted merely to the end of each week.

No wonder, therefore, that the signing of an 18-month contract last month at Bradford City – something that had been dependent on the League One club reaching the FA Cup fourth round – came as such a big relief.

“People talk about pressure going into games against Chelsea or Sunderland,” said Williams, who will tomorrow once again step up from the Bantams’ bench to start in goal against Gus Poyet’s Black Cats.

“But the big pressure was going into a game knowing the result will probably decide your future. And the security of your family.”

Williams’s big break in terms of being able to finally lay down some roots came when City drew Chelsea in the Cup.

The catch, however, was that any hopes of him being able to move from the week-to-week terms he had agreed in the summer were dependent on Phil Parkinson’s saide safely negotiating a third-round replay against Millwall.

Defeat would have meant an inevitable tightening of the purse strings at Bradford, who needed the trip to Stamford Bridge to wipe out the final large chunk of a £1m deficit in the playing budget.

Thankfully for not only City’s bean-counters but also Williams, the Lions were thrashed 4-0 to earn a trip to Stamford Bridge and what turned out to be one of the most incredible days in the Cup’s long history.

“To win 4-0 like we did against Millwall was nice,” the former Manchester United trainee told The Yorkshire Post.

“Before that, I was on a short-term deal. Very short, in fact. Going into each cup game, I had to think it could be my last.

“For clubs like this, prize money and gate receipts are huge and they have a massive knock-on effect. Just look at Cambridge. They are on about changing all sorts on the back of playing Manchester United.

“I understand the position in football. Everything is run to a tight budget. You have to accept that. I am just thankful it worked out like it did with the extra money coming into the budget from the cups meaning they could keep me on a longer deal, which I signed before we played Chelsea.

“The boys were aware of my situation before the Millwall game because a few came up to me afterwards and said, ‘That was for you – congratulations.’

“That was nice. Since then, I have had security and been able to put everything to the back of my mind. But, at the time, it was a difficult position to be in.”

For Williams, the uncertainty that surrounded his future in January this year was nothing new. Just last summer, he had been in a very similar position after being released by Hibs following the club’s relegation from the Scottish Premier League.

“I left Hibs with something in the Championship pretty much lined up,” said Williams, father to two boys, four-year-old Jude and one-year-old Jesse.

“But, through no fault on our part, it fell through. There was a change of staff and management at the club and it didn’t work out.

“So, I went to Doncaster with a view to signing there but then the takeover (by John Ryan) fell through and that was that. The manager here was good enough to bring me in. He said they needed experienced cover for Jordan (Pickford, who had signed on loan from Sunderland in the summer).

“Thankfully for me, everything has worked out well. But, in the summer, it was difficult. I have a wife and two young boys, aged four and one. That is a huge amount of responsibility, being able to make our lives secure. In the current climate of football, that isn’t easy. There is less and less security outside the top league. It was a worry. It has to be when one thing falls through and then the back-up plan does the same.

“That is when you start to doubt and question, because you have no control. Fortunately for me, I came into a team like this and got the opportunity to prove I warranted a deal. That is when you feel a bit more comfortable. It is history now but not something I would like to repeat.”

Williams has made eight starts for Bradford, all in the cups, and come off the bench twice in league games following red cards shown to first-choice goalkeeper Pickford.

It has meant long spells on the sidelines being peppered with wonderful experiences, ranging from the beating of a bitter local rival in Leeds United through to their win at Chelsea.

He has pulled off a string of important saves along the way, from the vital block from Steve Williams at 1-0 down against FC Halifax Town to the one-handed effort that left Didier Drogba bemoaning his luck.

“That day at Chelsea was fantastic,” he says with a smile. “I have run out of superlatives for it.

“I captained Hibs in the Scottish FA Cup final a couple of years ago, after playing in a semi-final where we were 3-0 down but came back to win 4-3 in extra time. But to come from 2-0 down like we did at Chelsea and win was just fantastic. My family were there and that made it extra special.”